Thursday, December 06, 2001


I deliberately avoided a basketball game tonight, and it shouldn't surprise anyone why.

Tonight was Saratoga High's first home game, an event in and of itself, and everybody who was anybody and had some spare time and liked basketball and didn't have anything better to do or had children playing on the teams or in the band or in the concession stand was there (which is why the turn-out at Laura M's open house tonight was not what it should have been, but that's OK - more wine and gnosh for me).

But I was not.

It's just too hard, my friends, to take in games wherein my two favorite teams by far (and that's saying a lot since they're the only two basketball teams in the entire world about whose fates I care one whit, whose fortunes I follow, whose box scores I notice in the Casper-Star Trombone [as my esteemed former editor used to call it]). Saratoga was playing Encampment.

I almost used the first person plural there, but I had a tremendous and actually ridiculous argument with myself over which team I could honestly and soulfully refer to as "we," even though I am a graduate of only one of those schools.

But really – unless one's very own personal child is playing on one of the teams, how can anyone honestly choose between these two schools? Kids who live in Saratoga go to school in Encampment. Encampment schoolchildren's parents buy groceries, here, get their late-model cars fixed here, even rent post office boxes here because Encampment's tiny little postal station doesn't have enough boxes to support even the currently dwindling population there (I emphasize currently; whether one likes it or doesn't, whatever is going on up on Green Mountain is probably going to lead to a certain amount of growth in Encampment and Riverside... which will help more than it hurts, but that's a subject for another post).

Saratoga residents rent cross-country skis (if they have not yet made the step of buying them) from the father of one Encampment boys team starter and another frequent player. Encampment residents come to the medical clinic in Saratoga for treatment for their colds, their flus, their broken bones and entirely ordinary anthrax infections. If Saratoga residents want a good ol' ice cream soda between January and May, they have to hit the Sugar Bowl in Encampment. If Encampment residents need washers or PVC pipe or lumber or tractor parts, they probably have to hit either the hardware or the lumber store in Saratoga (or Walden, but let's assume that they all at least want their sales tax dollars to benefit the county and the state in which they live).

Just as in common parlance Wyoming is one small town with some very long streets, the Platte Valley is an even smaller town with only slightly shorter streets. Yes, there are three incorporated municipalities involved, yes, there are two schools (but both are in the same school district, subject to the decisions of the same school board, funded through the same funky formulae). But in the larger picture, from the perspective of the rest of the world, these nice distinctions are just that: nice distinctions that have no real bearing on the actual situation.

I won't even try to get into the familial connections between Saratoga, Encampment and Riverside, to say nothing of Walden. I'm not sure that computer software capable of meaningfully describing and diagramming those connections exists, not even in the bigass Mormon geneology database in Provo.

So how, meaningfully, can one pick a side at the Saratoga-Encampment basketball blowouts every year? Both sides comprise the children of dear friends, colleagues, business partners, annoying old bastards that one doesn't like much but one still has to treat well because of that one time he or she used the winch on his pickup to drag your daughter's car out of a snow drift.

Making matters "worse" is football season, when kids from both schools combine at both the middle school and high school level to form teams to take on much larger schools all over the state. At the middle school level especially this year, the Panthers would not have been the Panthers without the formidable efforts of something in the neighborhood of a dozen Encampment kids (some of whom are by far the smallest little gridsters I've ever seen, boys who made the team's diminutive quarterback look like Andre the Giant), who kept the quarterback from harm, caught his passes, and on the defensive side dragged down huge lumbering oafs from huge lumbering schools like Laramie and Rawlins! Try that while fielding a Saratoga-only or Encampment-only team!

Which is why I avoid the Saratoga-Encampment basketball contest altogether, and thank all the gods mankind has ever invented that the two teams play in altogether different leagues the rest of the season. There will be plenty of opportunties to cheer on the cross-country ski guru's two enormous and genial sons, as there will be to scream aloud when my banker's daughter nails another three-pointer.

So tonight, I made haste from speech practice (also a subject for a later post, assuredly) to Laura M's do, and later to the Wolf.

At the Wolf, just before I left, Saratoga's girls basketball coach showed up for a nightcap. Out of politeness, I asked him how his girls had done, though I didn't really want to know; his girls, who are my girls too, were playing my other girls (including one of the daughters of a good friend of mine who endures my pranks and prevarications in the Saratoga Community Choir even though she lives in Encampment). He told me that his girls won. I told him I was glad, though in truth I would have been happy either way.

As for the boys, nobody tell me, please. I will read about it in the Sun or the Daily Times or the Trombone in private, and keep my reactions to myself.

Wednesday, December 05, 2001


Sorry, folks. It's been two days now since I posted anything here, and while I've already indicated that Tuesdays are going to be a wash for publishing anyway what with council meetings at town hall and the Wolf, well, today was kind of a wash, too.

Let's just say I'm aiming for quality over quantity. Yeah. That sounds good.

Monday, December 03, 2001


The following comes from a article posted this evening as a follow up to an afternoon featuring endless iterations of a warning that our whiz-bang Director of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, was going to issue a new alert (which warnings my friends at Secular Johnson quickly predicted were leading up to a highly vague alert from Ridge that had no specific information and would be blown way out of proportion. Damn, it's hell to be right sometimes):

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Citing the "quantity and level" of threats, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge announced Monday a new security alert, warning of the possibility of another terrorist attack within the United States.

"Be vigilant, be aware," Ridge said. He said there was no information on specific targets or dates, but the level of threats monitored by intelligence and law enforcement agencies had increased to the "threshold" point where the administration felt another warning was warranted.

"The decibel level was higher," Ridge said.

Vague doesn't even begin to cover it, does it? Really worth all the hype and promotion and attempts at inducing hysteria, wasn't it?

I'd laugh if I could be absolutely certain that no one out there took the pre-alert warnings and the alert itself overly seriously, but I can't. And as just by indicating as I have here that I personally do not take this alert terribly seriously, I have probably pissed some people off, I offer the following excerpts from the speech Ridge delivered after being sworn in to clarify why I feel this way (NOTE: For the full text, check out the transcript at National Review Online, and while you're there, check out pretty much any column by Victor Davis Hanson you can randomly click on; his is the best and the sanest perspective on our national predicament I can find, consistently wise, historically grounded, and realistic about human nature, warfare and other team sports):

"And we will operate from a few basic principles. First, candor. No one should be wary of coming forward when they see a problem. It's the only way to define a solution. The urgency of our task dictates candor about our challenges and confidence in our ability to solve them."

This sounds admirable, and at first glance could be seen to be nothing more than rhetoric about how he won't keep secrets from us (unless, presumably, it's for our own good), but look at that third sentence, "No one should be wary of coming forward when they see a problem."

Practically an invitation for every bored nihilist or crazed crackpot or conspiracy theorist to flood his office with "tips."

But he didn't say anything about the sources of his information or the ultimate veracity of the "intelligence" gathered. Just that there have been a lot of reports

"The decibel level is higher."

(Granted: later in the CNN story it is indicated that "U.S. intelligence sources said the threats came from members of the al Qaeda network against U.S. targets." But... um... how do we know these people were actually al Qaeda and not hoaxsters again? And if there's proof that they're not hoaxsters... why are they still loose to make threats? Why are you trying to scare me with these threats instead of just following up on them and nabbing the kooks making them, as you are so proud of having done in "December of 1999 [when] authorities in Jordan, Canada and the United States uncovered and prevented plans for a series of attacks related to the dawn of the millennium. Those plans were thwarted when intelligence learned about them and law enforcement arrested the suspected terrorists." Without, I might add, much in the way of hoopla or wannabe scary "alerts" like this one.)

Good grief. Crap like this makes me very glad that the television in my apartment is only hooked up to a VCR.

Confession time: I've been less than thrilled about this whole Homeland Security thang from the very start – even the name given the operation, "Homeland Security" sounds like something straight out of Philip K. Dick's most terrifying, paranoid riffs on the "Friends of the American People" – see the first few chapters of his posthumous masterpiece Radio Free Albemuth or the justly ominous-sounding Night Watch on Babylon 5.

When he issued an alert on Nov. 16 that nuclear weapons documents had been found in an Al Qaeda safehouse in Afghanistan, I was similarly annoyed by both his tone and that of the media coverage around it. It is 2001, people. Nuclear weapons documents are everywhere. A simple Google search I did just now turned up a pretty complete FAQ (acronym for Frequently Asked Questions) on nuclear weapons that, while it made my math-and-physics-impaired head hurt a bit, could well be more than enough information to allow anyone with a non-math-and-physics-impaired brain to wreak considerable havoc provided he or she had access to the right materials. And this is a perfectly legal, First Amendment protected document that simply compiles all of the open (i.e. not classified) literature on the topic.

I point this out not to alarm anyone (I'll leave that to Ridge, Christine Amapour and the like) but simply to point out that this particular genie is so out of the bottle that it's basically pointless to lose sleep over it.

And for all we know from the statements made by Ridge et alia, what was found in the safehouse might be nothing more than a print-out from this FAQ.

I'm ranting like this only because I hate the idea of anyone losing sleep over the kind of alerts and warnings issued by this utterly unnecessary new bureaucracy, folks.

Yes, bin Laden and his buddies are talking tough and scary right now - what do you expect; we've been bombing the Koran-misreading crap out of them. Their behavior and dark hints about greater power and more terrifying forces yet to be brought to bear against us isn't all that different from that of the kid knocked over on the playground making tremendous threats about what his eight foot tall, 500-pound bodybuilder dad is going to do to the bully who gave him a black eye.

Do yourselves a favor. Turn off your TV for a while and go play outside. It's perfect skiing weather, and there's plenty of snow on the ground. There's Christmas shopping to be done, and even Uncle Tom has encouraged Americans to show their patriotism, their faith in America by racking up credit card debt just like it was any old year. Don't go panicking just because Homeland Insecurity says something bad might happen to you.

It only increases the chances that something will.

P.S. For the record, I don't think too many of the people who read my weblog here are the type who are going to freak over anything any bureaucrat says (unless maybe it's Gale Norton). But you might know somebody who does, and maybe this rant can help with that. Or something.

P.P.S. Aren't you glad I got over my writer's block for the night?

P.P.P.S. If you disagree or want to remark on this or any of my posts, remember you can send comments to me at my e-mail address.

Good night!
Sorry, folks, but I have a bad case of writer's block tonight that neither the hot pool nor several cups of really good coffee has been able to cure. I'll keep trying, but you should probably just check back tomorrow.

Sunday, December 02, 2001


I love the smell of sulfur in the evening – evenings like this one, anyway.

My hometown has many characteristic smells to savor as one wanders through it at night: sawdust, woodsmoke, burning charcoal (even in the dead of winter this is present; true Saratogans do not let a few feet of snow prevent them from barbecuing a good steak of a Sunday evening),once I caught a strong whiff of fish off the river. But on an evening like this, the most comforting smell of all is of sulfur, a scent that clings to me even now as I type, despite a shower with a powerful peppermint soap and a vigorous towelling...

Tonight was not a classic winter's dip in our beloved Hobo Pool – while the wind tonight is gusty and cold, the air when still is well above freezing and so there is no opportunity to marvel at how quickly the droplets clinging to my eyebrows and lashes freeze even while the rest of my face and body is toasty warm. Indeed; it was warm enough tonight that I might otherwise have felt silly seeking out the hot pool, which I only really enjoy when it is really and truly cold out, when I can savor the shocking contrast between the air as I pull myself out of the water (as a visitor to the pool tonight observed as he heaved himself up onto the sides for a spell, there's only so long you can sit in hot water) and the water itself. It is important to stay out in the cold long enough for the body to re-adjust itself so one can re-create the all-over tingle of the first, quick immersion after a long chilly bike ride to the pool when one plunges back in.

No, the conditions for this best of all hot pool trips did not prevail, but I sought out the waters that can't cure smallpox anyway, because I knew they'd be good for me.

(By way of explanation for that, I'll just share with you one image that a carload of tourists seem to have found extremely shocking: me in a baggy pair of men's swimming trunks and a t-shirt, tooling around the Saratoga Inn golf course at a decent rate of speed. Oh, did I mention I was on cross-country skis?)

(Yes, I even ski in shorts, if I'm not too far from home and the weather is as pleasant as it was today)

I've been riding a bicycle instead of using my car all summer, so my first foray into winter sport for the season did not leave me quite as sore as it usually would, but feet and shoulders get little use on a bike and were loudly protesting the hard use they saw today by the time I was hauling my bones up the sidewalk past the municipal pool to the ever holy Hobo Pool.

As the sulfurous vapors enveloped me, however, even my screaming plantar fasciae (damaged last March as I was climbing around on rocks whose location my physician has forbidden me to divulge if I ever want medical care again in my lifetime) (OK, mild exaggeration; I'm sure she'd at least apply some ice to the black eye she would give me if I told) (OK, that was an exaggeration, too. She wouldn't risk her own highly trained and skilled hands clobbering me. She'd have her new physcian's assistant do it) calmed down and agreed that maybe everything would be all right for a while.

Off with the sweats as I greet the regulars and the tourists – tonight consisting of a German man and his son paddling around the water with masks and snorkels (why? why on earth?) and a few kids from UW. Stretch and smile and into the water as quickly as possible.

Thousands of little pins and needles attack my frozen extremities (the air isn't freezing, no, but the wind was strong and gusty and biting and all kinds of no-fun to pedal against – yes, on my bike. The ritual requires I use my bike, get nice and cold on the way there so I appreciate the heat all the more on arrival at the pool and again at home and I'm sure you have some funky hot pool-related rituals I would find comical as well, so phooey!) as I sink into the water. My eyes roll back in my head and I fumble around along the bottom with my fingers until I find my sitting rock. Then and only then do I lean back against the furry wall and take my true ease...

The fur on the wall is a constant source of anxiety for me now that this pool is my personal responsiblity. While the never-ending battle against the algae for which this water is the ideal, the only habitat, has always been in part mine to fight (I remember whole Saturdays when I was a child when, decked out in a bathing suit and stocking cap I lined up against the walls with other members of my Brownie troop scrubbing away at the stuff with a brush), now it is my own partner in crime (also known as our redoubtable recreation director, a.k.a. the "Minister of Fun") who has to monitor the water's chemistry and report it to the state, which in effect has very strict standards on how furry our walls may get lest these wonderful waters be deemed a public health hazard. And it is he, and, by extension, me (since there is in effect no recreation board in place for him to report to) who has to schedule and execute the modern day equivalent of Brownie Troop 381's scrubbing parties.

Said parties take much less time and real effort than those of yore, now that the pool can be drained with ease and that most remarkable of inventions, the pressure washer, is an indispensible tool in the fight against the fur. Now the procedure consists of putting a notice up that the pool will be closed on such-and-such a morning, draining the pool most of the way, and firing up those pressure washers (the town has one which is mighty impressive as it blasts away at the algae, knocking it right off the wall like the water pik of the gods, yes, impressive indeed, until a local painting contractor and hot pool fan shows up with the water pik of the Titans, surely Prometheus' follow-up gift bestowed right after fire, so powerful it makes a the town's washer look like something I would use to fill a bird bath). The algae comes off in satisfying stripes, a Calvinist triumph, like painting in reverse... and then one looks down into what is left of the Hobo pool's waters, turgid and green with algae corpses that don't realize they've been defeated. No problem, though – just turn on an ordinary garden hose and gently persuade them all to head for the drain and out they go!

All this early in the morning, just as the sun is rising. By the time the sun is all the way up, the job is nearly done and the pool is clean. Did someone plan it that way, this marvelous effect? It makes of the cleaning project an almost pagan ritual; we toil and scrub so the first rays of the sun that reach the water may shine on a Hobo Pool renewed...

So while the ever-thickening fur on the wall feels a little funky, still I welcome the sliminess for the reminder it delivers about the requirements and rewards of stewardship. Because a few volunteers do a few hours of work a few mornings a year, we all have this amazing thing to enjoy.

And enjoy I - lots of us - do: All who drain and scrub and spray, all who soak and splash and play, all can make the same observation: You know you're in a special place when the scent of heaven is the smell of brimstone.